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Faith column: This David Gentiles believed…

December 27, 2009

Here’s my latest column, which was an honor, albeit a sad one, to write about the late David Gentiles, co-pastor of Journey Imperfect Faith Community.

And the full text:

Beliefs big and small paint picture of pastor’s life

I’ll tell you now that this column will fail to accomplish its goal. I’m going to try to capture the depth and breadth of the life of David Gentiles, a beloved pastor who touched thousands of people. But that’s an impossible task.

David died Dec. 18 at Brackenridge Hospital, four days after an accident at his gym. Church leaders said he dropped weights on himself and suffered cardiac arrest, but it wasn’t clear which happened first. He was 58. The Baton Rouge, La., native was a co-pastor at Journey Imperfect Faith Community in North Austin. A graduate of Baylor University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he served as a youth minister in churches in Louisiana and Texas, including Riverbend in West Austin.

These are all important facts, but I wanted to share the stuff that doesn’t show up on a man’s résumé. So I asked David’s friends, including members of his church who call themselves Journeyers, to help me out. And this is what we came up with:

He believed in breathing. He started every service by reminding the congregation to just breathe.

He believed in crying. Journeyer Bob Carlton said David made crying cool.

He believed in the Cleveland Indians. An unexpected loyalty for a boy from Louisiana, but that was his team. David, who played ball in college, once told me that God came first, but baseball was a close second.

He was a true Cajun, so naturally he believed in gumbo. Really good gumbo. Like the kind he made. Said Journeyer Shelton Green: “You knew you were special if David showed up to your party with his own gumbo.”

He believed in showing up. For somebody’s gig or to help someone move or to sit and talk. His friend Dave Madden described him as “frumpy David” in his blue jeans and ball cap, just this guy who would be there. And there was something holy in that.

He believed in wearing the same pair of work boots every single day.

He believed in generosity. He invited Brian Hill, who was just out of college at the time, to live with him rent-free when he had no direction and encouraged him to try his hand in ministry.

He believed in big miracles. After his friend Don Piper was in a car wreck, David stood at his hospital bed and coaxed him back from death, a moment Piper would later describe in his best-selling book “90 Minutes in Heaven.” A book, Piper said, that would not have been written without David’s encouragement.

David believed in small miracles, too, like what might come from encouraging a fatherless kid in Pearland to try writing. That kid was Donald Miller, now a renowned author who dedicated his best-selling memoir “Blue Like Jazz” to David.

He believed that if they worked together, people could stop human trafficking and forced labor.

He believed in taking out the trash at church because the trash wasn’t going to take itself out.

He believed in the sacredness of an unlikely space for a church (a warehouse in a North Austin industrial park). But he also believed that the people made the space sacred and that church was where the people were.

To be sure, he believed in people. All kinds. Troubled kids, homeless families, bright-eyed babies and starry-eyed newlyweds. And a middle-aged minister named Rick Diamond who took a risk by leaving the church establishment to build a different kind of church community. Gentiles decided to join Diamond in 2005.

“David Gentiles believed in Journey Imperfect Faith Community,” Diamond said. “He left job security and a career in conventional ministry in order to be part of the scrappy imperfect experiment in loving God and loving people.”

This may sound obvious, but he believed in God and in the Bible, a book he knew inside and out, and he believed that Jesus was first and foremost about love.

David was a man who “loved hard, whose arms were wide open,” said his old friend Milton Brasher-Cunningham, who got to know David decades ago when they both started in youth ministry. “There weren’t any hooks in his love. It wasn’t what he was going to get back. He just had love to give.”

Diamond said David gave that love indiscriminately. “(He) believed that each person is the beloved child of God, regardless of whether she or he is a Christian or not, young or old, whatever color, straight or gay, whatever politics, whatever denomination.”

David believed most passionately in his three daughters, Ariele, Hannah and Calla, whom he raised as a single dad. He loved them with ferocity and admired them for the accomplished women they were becoming. After the accident, everyone prayed not just for David but for “David and his girls.”

At 58, David probably believed that he would live long enough to hold his grandchildren. Or at least long enough to open presents with his girls on Christmas.

But then, he didn’t live his life as if those things were guaranteed.

Last Sunday, broken-hearted Journeyers gathered for their regular service in the space they had visited again and again the previous week for a round-the-clock prayer vigil. In the space where they had asked God for the kind of miracle that David believed in, they cried and lit votive candles and breathed.

In the candle-lit glow of the sanctuary, Leslie Diamond, a Journey minister and Rick’s wife, reminded the congregation that when people looked at David, they saw God.

Trying to achieve that themselves, she said, was the best way to honor their friend.

On a screen behind her read the words “Go in peace.”

Memorial service for David Gentiles 4:45 p.m., Dec. 30, St. Michael’s Catholic Academy baseball field, 3000 Barton Creek Blvd.; 6-midnight, gathering at Journey Imperfect Faith Community, 3009 Industrial Terrace. More information at journeyifc.com.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Melinda Hasting Wheatley permalink
    December 27, 2009 6:38 pm

    Thanks for this, Eileen.

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